I love competing in France and always have done. You get good facilities, friendly organisation, great courses and excellent food. We were expecting so much (from the World Equestrian Games – WEG), but it failed to deliver on almost every front.
Of course the wet weather played a huge part. But the organisers didn’t seem to have thought about what would happen if it rained at all. Apparently they spent a million euros on drainage on the cross-country. Well thank God they did, otherwise the competition would have been nearly impossible to run.
The stables were flooded when we got there, the riders and officials’ car park at Haras Du Pin was only useable on the first and last days, which meant people had to park on the side of the road, which further added to the congestion.
The confusion and chaos caused those policing the event to become incredibly controlling and officious. While last year at the test event there was a nice marquee to eat in overlooking the stunning chateau and course, this time we had something like an army canteen with awful food. I ate there twice, then gave up.
And we riders probably did better than the spectators — it’s them I feel most sorry for. Three food outlets to feed a sold-out crowd and nowhere for them to sit and eat it. The queues were a mile long for the loos and knee-deep in mud — why? We all expected so much more.
The warm-up arenas were ok — typical French white sand, which in heavy rain meant you were splashing around in puddles. It was like riding in the sea. The gallop field was a bog. I tried to trot in it, gave up and never went back.
We expected the cross-country to be big, long and hilly, and it was — coupled with very soft ground. It was hard work for the horses. Thank goodness they took a minute off the track. There were two decent hills in the middle, then from the final water you climbed all the way to the finish, which was unfair and meant we saw a lot of very tired horses finishing the course.
For once — especially after Buck Davidson had to pull up as pathfinder — most realised that they had to set off sensibly and rode conservatively.
The New Zealand squad had a highly disappointing Games. It brought back memories of The Hague in 1994, where Andrew Nicholson, Blyth Tait and I all fell.
My horse was going so well when we came to grief at the step up to skinny brush in the final water complex. He wasn’t tired and I had plenty of horse left. Horses just didn’t seem to read that question at all, even those who scrambled through it successfully. The water was the same colour as the bank and the surface on top of it, and there wasn’t anything to make them back off and jump it properly.
Overall the track rode well, but I had hoped for something more innovative. It was a very typical Pierre Michelet course with questions we’ve seen before.
Jonelle Price was our one shining light. Both she and her little mare, Classic Moet, who has come through to this level very quickly, were fantastic in all three phases. She rode the round of the day on Saturday, skipping across the ground for the fastest time of the day. Her instructions at the final water were to go straight, and she ended up taking the long route after losing her reins, but she might have made the time if all had gone to plan. It was an outstanding effort.
Personal positives are hard when we had such an awful time. But three things stood out: the performance of the Brazilians, with whom I am involved, especially 20-year-old Gabriel Cury on Grass Valley. I was so proud of both horse and rider.
Rodolphe Scherer, whose father died on the first day of the competition, was amazing in both jumping phases. Everyone was rooting for him and the image of him blowing kisses after the final water will be one of the lasting pictures of the Games. And the French crowd were absolutely fantastic. Like at the London Olympics, their enthusiasm and excitement was such a buzz and they cheered every single competitor all the way round the cross-country, and also made the atmosphere in the showjumping stadium electric.
I felt sorry for them that their championship wasn’t a better experience when they clearly care so much about the sport.